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Learning to appreciate the journey

Published: August 23, 2013
Section: Opinions


On the night of May 19, after a whirlwind day of caps and gowns, diplomas and subtle donation requests, I left my friends at the Alpha Delta Phi house as a college graduate. But rather than smile at my accomplishments, I was struck with paralyzing fear. As I walked across the street on the 100-foot journey from my friends to my apartment and went to sleep, I worried that when I woke up, I’d look out the window and the place that I had just left would be gone. Not physically, as though the corner of South and Dartmouth was the island from “Lost,” but gone as if I’d never be able to get those experiences and those memories back.

In time, I accepted that although there was change in my life, I would adjust and find success in the “real world”—because this had all happened before. Four years ago, I sat on my front steps in Philadelphia after packing the car for college and had the same fears. I was worried that I’d lose the places and the people that mattered most to myself and my identity, traveling 300 miles away.

The members of the Class of 2013 will all follow different paths. My journey to adjust to life outside of Brandeis is unique to me. This is coupled by the fact that this is the second year in a row that I haven’t had to enroll in fall classes. Last year, I did this by choice when I felt the calling to work full time on a campaign. I’ve already had to find housing last minute and worry about holding down a schedule without my friends prodding me to go to class—much like a first-year adjusting to life without parents controlling his/her schedule.

Additionally, I’ve adapted to the new expectations of my life because I’m in the same line of work as I was a year ago, and I still live in Waltham. You’ll never see me running around campus grabbing coffee from the library before waiting on line for Pachanga tickets, but I can’t hide for long from the proximity, even if I want to.

That’s what’s specific about my journey: it’s helped me adjust to new experiences that life has thrown at me. When you get to college, leave college, get married, or follow life’s other big journeys in the “real world,” there will be factors like these for everyone. Here are a few things that I’ve learned from some of the smartest people around me in my times of transition, and which I’ve found helpful when adjusting to most situations:

Be the nicest person you can be for the first week in a new environment, and you’ll be set for life. (And be nice after that, too.) Half of the people living in my house as graduates are kids who lived in my quad as first-years, and one was someone I met on my first day at school.

Fill the abundance of free time with new or exciting pursuits. When I first started college, I signed up for every group imaginable: auditioning for a cappella, captaining a flag football team and trying out a radio show. I used to joke to my friends that I signed up for both the college Democrats and the college Republicans. Some activities lasted, such as my involvement in political groups and my fraternity, while others fell by the wayside. As a graduate, this past June I got a camera and started learning how to use it. I also started learning how to brew beer with my roommate and caught up on reading. In the long run, these interests may become passions, just as I fell into certain activities in my undergrad years.

Allow your interests and employment status to be narrowed and more defined; it’s not necessarily bad. Even when I started with 1,000 aforementioned extracurriculars, by my senior year I was spending most of my time on politics, fraternity and music, while trying to find a job and a personal life that had the right combination of these.

Always keep an eye out for something else on the horizon. If it’s time to move on, do it with confidence and grace. For me, this has been true of friendships, club involvement, employment and subjects I chose to study.

Don’t let the “perfect” get in the way of the “good.” I spent the first few months of this summer in a state of “funemployment,” and to cope, I tried to get as much done as possible on things in my life that I thought were “imperfect”—I cleaned and reorganized my house, dabbled in diets and made lists of tasks I wanted to accomplish, all to fill my time until I got a job. While I got a lot done, I would have been just as happy in the long run to have waited until the next day to accomplish a task. Striving for excellence is important, but not to the detriment of your success. In the workforce, there’s usually at least one task that can wait another day, and with the exception of any deadline, it’s usually the task on which you find yourself stalling late at night when you should be relaxing.

Be a good person. It’s easier for teachers, mentors and employers to identify a good person whom they can train in a skill or engage in a passion, than to find a talented individual who needs to be trained in kindness and compassion.

Stay healthy. Eat, sleep, get your flu shot. If you’re in any sort of rewarding career, you’re not working nine to five every day for the next 20 years—you’ll probably end up working some overtime. Keep healthy, and get adequate sleep when you can because you’ll need the collective rest when you can’t.

Keep in touch with the people you care about most, no matter how you do it. They were there before you journeyed toward the “new,” and they’ll be there during the adjustment, after you’ve settled and when you’re ready to move on again. That’s primarily what keeps me local: I want to hold onto the best parts of what I’m leaving behind. But every day, I become more aware that one day I’ll be ready to physically move elsewhere.

For now, my experiences, memories and the connections I have can be as easy to navigate and recall as walking across South Street.